Aquarion Volume 4

So here we are at the end of line, as the war between humanity and their enemies, the Shadow Angels, heads toward its conclusion! But before the final battle in the Shadow Angels’ realm of Atlandia, Earth’s DEAVA team will have to face another slew of personal issues, angst and this time even betrayal at the hands of one of their own!

So how does the crash-bang-wallop finale measure up?

Well, the visual quality is as sumptuous as ever, with the same lush palette of colours and smooth animation that was seen consistently through the preceding volumes. It’s great to see that there’s been no dip in the aesthetic merits this show undoubtedly has, and there’s some gorgeous imagery to be enjoyed.

It’s particularly pleasing to note, too, that Yoko Kanno’s music, which I felt was a little poorly showcased before in the series, gets a few moments to really shine. As the story nears its conclusion, her score elevates the mood and adds weight to on-screen events in that unique way she seems to have perfected – it finally feels like she’s ‘here’ in the production.

As before, though, when it comes to story content, Aquarion remains something of a mixed bag for viewers. There’s still plenty of the show’s solid character-driven drama, and this time around we get some of the best the show has offered up so far. From the wide cast of characters, Apollo, Sirius, and Sylvia are all given some fairly hefty, angst-laden events and arcs to work through, which makes things all the more watchable and keeps viewer interest up. There are also some surprises in store that pick up from earlier episodes, which will no doubt please devotees who have followed the show so far.

Execution this time doesn’t seem quite so clunky, which is a definite plus. The per-episode appearance of the show’s titular mecha, which was a big problem for me previously, doesn’t seem quite so jarring as it did before. Perhaps that’s because it works a little better in the context of these final episodes. We’d fully expect a healthy dose of mecha-mangling by this point in the story, so Aquarion’s continual appearances don’t feel nearly as contrived as before. We also get something that is just that bit gnarlier from the mecha battles, with a pretty neat (if unexceptional) mecha battle in the finale. We’re STILL treated to the dubious device of an episode progressing at a nice, measured pace before the giant robots are ushered in by little more than an abruptly sounding klaxon. But this time around, things are far less grating. Thankfully, the embarrassing ‘merge’ sequence doesn’t get as much use in these episodes – another per-episode occurrence that was somewhat hard to take. Again, it’s still there, just not as obtrusive or oft-used.

So. These things, coupled with Aquarion’s sharp dialogue and quality dub, would seem to improve the show, yes? Sadly, no.

The problem? Aquarion’s final salvo, which would have been a good place to distinguish the show from anything similar out there in Anime land, only succeeds in giving us more of the same. But in a bizarre sense, they do it less so. Given that the episodes here concern themselves with the resolution of the over-arcing storyline, there’s little to no room for the entertaining escapades and oddball scrapes the characters found themselves in before. No cosplay episodes. No diet episodes. No vampires or food-eating bugs. Instead, we get the outworking of the central plotlines, which, while they’re adequate to support the show, are hardly original or exceptional in any way.

Shoji Kawamori’s old-style mecha show is never less than watchable, but for everything this volume does right, it still feels somehow underwhelming. Perhaps it’s because the show can’t escape the muddled tone it set for itself so early on. Maybe it has to do with the constant shouting and screaming, which makes the show feel needlessly juvenile and works against the otherwise classy Funimation dub. But for this reviewer, Aquarion drops a solid point for featuring one of the most ill-fitting, confused and frustrating endings this kind of show could have. After everything that went before this final instalment, the ultimate fates of Apollo, DEAVA’s other members, planet Earth, and the Shadow Angels feel like a massive cop-out. Viewers who have invested in these characters are likely to come away feeling disenfranchised.

Sadly, however well it’s presented, Aquarion isn’t likely to stick in the memory of mecha enthusiasts.  As an attempt to transplant the old super-robot anime formula into a modern package with equally modern production values, it works just fine. But there are literally dozens of better shows out there.

6 / 10